Person of Christ
Course: Understanding Theology
Lecture: Person of Christ
I. Pre-Incarnate Existence
Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who was born, lived, ministered, died and rose again is one who came as the eternal Son of God and took on human flesh. This means that if he really did take on human flesh, come in the form of a man, he existed before the incarnation, as it is called. Is there evidence for the pre-incarnate existence of Christ? Yes!
A. Jesus as the "LORD" of the Old Testament
Let me give you a bit of the abundant evidence that there is. For example, Christ is spoken of in a number of passages as Yahweh of the Old Testament. Isaiah 40:3, “A voice calling in the wilderness; make ready the way of the Lord (Yahweh),” is referred to in Matthew 3:3 as the one whom John the Baptist is proclaiming, preparing the way for him to come. Or Jeremiah 23:5-6 where the branch of David who is to come is given a name and that name is Yahweh, our righteousness. Isaiah 6:3, Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord (Yahweh) exalted and in John 12:41 we see that the Holy One that Isaiah saw is spoken of by John as none other than Jesus Christ in his pre-incarnate existence. Other passages indicate that Christ who will come will be “God with us,” Emmanuel, Isaiah 7:14. In Isaiah 9:6-7 he is called “Eternal Father, Mighty God.” Notice that the Hebrew here, El Gibor, Mighty God, is used in Isaiah 10:21 of the God of Israel. There is no question this is a reference to the one who will come, namely Christ, who is himself God.
B. The Testimony of Jesus about His Own Pre-existence
Of course, Jesus’ own testimony during his ministry indicates this. For example, one of the clearest passages is John 8:58 where Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” Even if he just meant by that that he lived before Abraham was born, we’re talking two thousand years earlier and that in itself is remarkable. In fact, if that’s what Jesus was saying I think the Pharisees would have laughed and they would have said, “Lock the man up, he is a lunatic, he is crazy.” But, in fact, they took up stones to stone him. Why? Because they realized that he wasn’t just claiming to have existed before Abraham, two thousand years, he was claiming to be the “I Am” of Exodus 3, “Before Abraham was, I Am,” identifying himself with Yahweh. John 17:5, Jesus says, “Glorify me with the glory I had with thee before the world was.” Obviously Jesus knew that he existed prior to the incarnation and, in fact, in eternity past. Many other passages, we will look at a number of these in regard to the deity of Christ, indicate that he as God has eternally existed.
The incarnation is the point in human history. It is an actual historical event where the eternal Son of God took on human flesh and thus became incarnate or infleshed as we might say in English usage. It is crucial to see that for this incarnation to occur there must have been, then, the pre-incarnate existence of the eternal Son who then takes on human existence as he is conceived and then born from Mary.
Listen to the words that are spoken by the angel to Mary as he comes and tells her of the upcoming conception and birth of Christ. In Luke 1 we read that Gabriel comes in verse 28 and says to her, “‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was perplexed at this statement and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was and the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall name him Jesus and he will be called great and will be the Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be since I am virgin?’ The angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High shall overshadow you and for this reason the holy child shall be called the Son of God.’”
Here we have in the incarnation the birth of one who is both God and man, the Son of God who is combined with the human that is formed in the womb of Mary and born as God and man together. Perhaps no better statement in all of Scripture summarizes this when we read in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Then in verse 14, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Why did Christ come? This can be summarized, really, in what are called these three offices of Christ in the incarnation as Prophet, Priest, and King.
Clearly, Christ came to be the final and great Prophet of the Most High and we read of that in Hebrews 1 where God spoke in former times in many portions and many ways but in these last days he has spoken to us. Here we have a Prophet from God, spoken to us in his Son. I think the early chapters of Matthew are meant to indicate we have a prophet here like Moses but better than Moses, one beyond Moses, because in Matthew Jesus goes into Egypt, comes out of Egypt, is in the wilderness for forty days paralleling Moses with the children of Israel forty years in the wilderness. Then he comes out and he gives the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is meant to be parallel to the giving of the law. Notice Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said but I say to you,” these are astonishing words because Jesus has been quoting Moses, but now he says, “but I say to you,” indicating he has authority that even exceeds Moses, quite a remarkable statement. Deuteronomy 18:15 indicates that a prophet would come as a new Moses to the people and, of course, Christ fulfills this.
He comes also as High Priest. Psalm 110:4 is fulfilled in Christ, as he is the High Priest for the people. The book of Hebrews emphasizes the priestly role of Christ not in the line of Aaron and the Levitical priesthood but rather in the line of Melchizedek, one who has no origin, one who we know nothing of their parentage and so on. So here comes the eternal priest who is priest forever and is the high priest of his people.
Then, of course, Christ comes as King overall to fulfill the Davidic covenant and comes in the line of Judah from Genesis 49:10. David was promised in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 that he would have a son who would reign on his throne forever anticipated, of course, by Solomon in particular and others who were in the Davidic line but none of them was the righteous king who would be in the line of David until Christ comes and fulfills this. As we read just a moment ago in Luke 1 where the angel says to Mary, “He will reign over the house of Jacob; his kingdom will have no end. He will be called the Son of the Most High and the Lord will give him the throne of his Father David,” in verses 32 and 33. So Christ comes as Prophet, Priest, and King.
III. Deity of Christ
Christ comes and he is clearly God. There is no question but that his deity is affirmed in a number of different ways in the New Testament. It is so clear that any one of these five arguments for the deity of Christ is in itself compelling and conclusive but when you put the five together it is an overwhelming composite argument for the deity of Christ. Consider these with me.
A. Names of God applied to Christ
The name theos, God, is applied to Christ. In John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God” 1 John 5:20, Christ is referred to as the true God and eternal life. The qualifier there, alethinos, true God, the one who truly is the deity spoken of is none other than Christ. One of the strongest passages, I think, is Hebrews 1:8 where the Father speaking says this, “But of the Son, he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.” This is a quote from Psalm 45:6. This an amazing statement where God himself calls the Son, God. A couple other passages I won’t take time to read but you could look at: Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 1:1, Romans 9:5, John 20:28, Colossians 1:15 and Philippians 2:6 are other passages where theos is used.
Other names of God are the Son of God that is used, look, for example, in John 5:17ff, John 10:33-36, Matthew 26:63-64. Son of Man is used. In fact, this is Jesus’ favorite term to use of himself and is used eighty-four times in the Gospels. Every one of them Jesus is referencing himself, never is he called the Son of Man by another but these are self-references. Clearly they have in mind the background of Daniel 7:13-14 where the Son of Man comes from the Ancient of Days. The Ancient of Days is clearly a divine figure in Daniel 7 but so is the Son of Man because he comes and has power and glory and a kingdom and he reigns forever and ever. Clearly this is the same language that is used of deity in the book of Daniel. So here comes Christ from the Ancient of Days, who is God, think of that as the Father, and he comes as the Son of Man and he comes as God, think of that as the Son, Jesus. Most notably he uses Daniel 7:13-14 in these passages in Matthew 24:30 and Matthew 26:64 as clear references to himself as the Son of Man who is none other than the God who will come and judge his people.
B. Attributes of God alone predicated of Christ
A couple of these are especially important. Eternity, first of all, where Christ is said in John 1:4 to have existence in himself and he is the Creator in John 1:3 and so he predates creation. Isaiah 9:6, he is the eternal Father. Micah 5:2, “His goings forth are from the days of eternity.” So Jesus has the attribute of eternity. Only God is eternal and therefore to say of Christ that he is eternal is to indicate that he is God. Notice this wouldn’t be the same thing as saying God is love, Christ is loving, so that must mean that Christ is God. No, because this is an attribute that is held also by nondivine creatures, you and me, we are called to be loving. But eternity is an attribute true of God alone and Christ possesses it.
Another is immutability. Christ is spoken of as the same yesterday, today, and forever, in Hebrews 13:8. Perhaps the strongest passage of Christ’s immutability is the quote of Psalm 102:25-27 in Hebrews 1:10-12 where clearly the God of Israel, the immutable God who never changes is in fact Christ in Hebrews 1:10-12.
C. Works done by God alone done by Christ
The most notable are the following: Christ creates the heavens and the earth. Well, of course, only God can do this but he is the Creator in John 1:3, in Colossians 1:15-16, in Hebrews 1:2-3, and 1 Corinthians 8:6. Christ is not only Creator, he preserves his creation; he holds it together, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3. God alone can give eternal life but Christ is the one who gives eternal life. Look, for example, at John 10:28, John 17:2, and 1 John 2:25.
Lastly and importantly, only God can forgive sins but Christ is said to be the one who forgives sin. Look for example at the story early in the Gospel of Mark 2:5-12 where here is brought this paralytic man, dropped down from the roof. They want, of course, for him to be healed but Christ says the most astonishing thing to him. He says to him, “Your sins are forgiven.” You have to ask the question, what did he do against Christ? The answer is nothing, nothing that we know of anyway. He is not talking about forgiving in the way we are called to forgive one another, that is, put things behind that have happened in terms of our relationship with one another. No, he is talking about judicial forgiveness that none of us can give to one another, only God can do and here Christ forgives sin. Look also on this at Colossians 1:14, Colossians 3:13 and notice in Isaiah 43:25 that it is in fact God and God alone who forgives sin. As Christ comes, clearly this is an evidence of his deity.
D. Worship belonging to God alone is given to Christ.
This is remarkable because obviously God knows that only God is to be worshiped. We have this in the Ten Commandments. We see this, for example, in Exodus 34:14 where clearly God states that only he is to be honored and worshiped. We read there, “You shall not worship any other god for the Lord whose name is jealous is a jealous God.” Of course, Christ knows this as well, because one of the temptations to Christ was to bow down and worship at the feet of Satan and he said, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” Of course he is quoting there from Deuteronomy 6:13. It is clear that God knows that only God is to be worshiped and Christ knows that only God is to be worshiped and yet Christ is worshiped and by this he is shown to be God.
Just to give you a few instances of this consider, for example, from the very beginning of his life the wise men come and worship Christ in Matthew 2:11. In a number of times during his life, he is worshiped, John 5:23, John 9:35-39, and Matthew 28:9-10. And most notably, I believe, is the fact that when he comes into this world the Father commands that Christ is to be worshiped, Hebrews 1:6, which is a remarkable thing. Of course, Christ will be worshiped with the Father at the end of the age. Think of Philippians 2:10-11 where, “Every knee will bow; every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Or Revelation 5:8-14 where the Lamb along with the one on the throne is worshiped forever and ever.
E. Jesus’ own claims to deity are evidence that he in fact is God.
John 8:58, I have mentioned before, “Before Abraham was, I Am,” is, I believe, a striking claim to deity as he identifies himself with Yahweh of the Old Testament. John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” Clearly this is not merely one in purpose, one in goal, but it is one in essence for they take up stones to stone him for blasphemy. John 17:5 where he claims always to have had the glory of the Father. Put in the background here Isaiah 42:8 where God says, “I will not share my glory with another,” and here is Christ saying, “Give to me the glory I had with thee before the world was.” Clearly Christ has the glory of the Father. Finally, Matthew 26:63-64 where he affirms when asked are you the Son of God in an idiom that is difficult to translate. Essentially he says, “Yes, I am the Son the God, and furthermore, I am the Son of Man who will come on a day of judgment,” he says to those accusing him. Scripture clearly indicates the deity of Christ.
IV. Humanity of Christ
He is not only fully God, he is fully man.
A. The Old Testament bears witness that the Messiah who would come would be a man.
Consider Isaiah 7:14, “Behold a virgin will conceive and bear a Son.” Isaiah 9:6, “For a child will be born; a son will be given.” Micah 5:3, “A child will be given.” In all three of those passages that I have just mentioned it is also clear that deity is indicated as well. For the virgin who will bear a son will call his name Emanuel, God with us. In Isaiah 9:6, “The child, the son born will have a name Mighty God, Everlasting Father.” In Micah 5:3, “The child that will come will be ruler in Israel and will be one whose goings forth have been from the times of eternity.” It is amazing to me to see in the Old Testament these clear indications that the one who would come to be Messiah would be a man, yes, but he would be God and man together as we see lived out in the incarnation and the life of Christ.
B. Christ’s own life also indicates his humanity.
He was conceived and developed in the womb and born as any other human being was born. Sometimes we talk about the miracle of the virgin birth of Christ, but actually, I don’t think the birth of Christ was miraculous. I imagine that Mary went through labor and gave birth to Christ in the way mothers typically do, natural childbirth. The miracle took place nine months earlier. It is really the miraculous conception of Christ that he was conceived without a human father. The Holy Spirit taking the place of the human father so he could be both God and man as he was conceived and then born and brought into this world.
Clearly he developed as a human being. In Luke 2:40, 52, we have these little glimpses into the boyhood of Jesus and we see there that he grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. That concept that he grew in wisdom is rich with implications because it means that Jesus as a human being learned things as he grew up. He didn’t know everything by virtue of his being God. We will talk more about this when we talk about the Kenosis in a few moments. But it does seem that it trivializes the humanity of Christ living his life as a genuine human being, if you think, for example, of Jesus as a baby in the manger contemplating the physics of the heavens that he had created. This is not a genuine human baby that could do that and should we think of Jesus doing that?
I think Luke 2 gives us clear indication that we should not. He grew in wisdom. Jesus actually had to learn as other human beings learned. He had to learn torah and study the law, so it wasn’t just automatic. Jesus could not put himself, as it were, on autopilot and just pull everything from his divine nature in knowing the law as in the way that he did. When we read in that same account in Luke 2 of how the Pharisees and the teachers of the law marveled at Jesus, this young boy twelve years old and the questions he asked, how much he knew. We shouldn’t trivialize that by thinking, well of course, this twelve-year-old boy was God. The joke is on them. No, we should not do that. The fact of the matter is we should marvel that this twelve year old boy would have studied and learned so much that he could amaze the Pharisees and the teachers of the law at such a young age.
Not only did he grow and develop physically, emotionally, mentally, but clearly he experienced a range of human emotions. He wept, he felt compassion, he got angry at times, felt tremendous agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and the crucifixion and all of these are indicators of his true human experience and human existence. Other indications, he grew tired at times, became hungry or thirsty, even had limited knowledge. I think this is an important passage, this is Mark 13:32 where Jesus says concerning the hour of the second coming, “No one knows, not the angels in heaven, not even the Son of man.” Here Jesus acknowledges he does not know everything. Again, we will bring this up in a few moments and try to make better sense of it but right here I want you to see he had the limitations of a human being. He did not know everything that could be known. Even though as God he was omniscient. How that could work, we will talk about in a moment.
C. Permanence of his humanity
I find it very sobering and spiritually humbling to realize that when Jesus took on humanity to fulfill the promises to David to be the Messiah, the King who would come in the line of David, that kingly reign as the King in the line of David who would come is a reign that would take place forever. So it does appear that, in fact, Christ when he comes again and we know he will, remember in Acts 1 the disciples were told to look to the heavens, to look to the clouds and they would see him come just as he went. So when Christ comes again he will come as a human being and will reign upon the new heavens and the new earth and will reign as a human being, the God Man, the same Jesus Christ now in a resurrected body that he was before. He took on human form for us, forever, it appears from Scripture in order to fulfill the mandate to reign as King forever and ever.
V. The Emptying (Kenosis) of Christ: Philippians 2:6-8
Now we turn our attention to the kenosis, as it is called, based upon the term that is used in Philippians 2:6-8 of Christ humbling himself taking the form of a bondservant. What does this term kenosis refer to? First of all lets look at the key terms of this passage in Philippians 2:6-8. Let me read for you the passage so you can have it in mind as we begin then to think about what is being said in this text and through these rich words. Paul says, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although he existed, Christ existed in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a bondservant, being made in the likeness of men and being found in appearance as a man. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
A. Key terms
1. morphe. It is translated “form” of God or “essential nature” as God. You can see in verses 6 and 7, in verse 6, “Who although he existed in the form of God, he emptied himself taking the form of a bondservant.” Now in both cases the term morphe refers to the essential nature of what it is you are speaking of rather than the outward appearance. We sometimes use the word form to indicate just its outward shape as it were but not what it really is on the inside. The Greek morphe communicates the notion of the actual substance or essential nature of something. We read in this that Christ, he comes, in the form of God, that is, he is essentially in his nature God and he takes on essentially the nature of a servant.
2. isos. It indicates equality that he has with God. isos is the term that is used in verse 6 where it says, “He did not regard equality with God something to be clutched on to.” The only thing that can be equal to God is God. Obviously Paul here in writing this, is indicating that he shares with God the full nature of God. He is equal with God but he doesn’t hold onto his identity as God in such a way that it forbids him or keeps him from doing what comes next.
3. ekenosin. And that we read in verse 7, “But he emptied himself.” And this is the term ekenosin from which the doctrine of the kenosis comes. He emptied himself. Now notice it doesn’t say, look at your Bibles and see this for yourself, it does not say that he poured something out of himself; it rather says he emptied himself or literally he poured out himself. The word simply means, “to pour out.” It is a very common word that is used for pouring water out of a pitcher and here it means Christ poured out himself. Now the reason this is important is because there is a heresy of the church called the Kenotic heresy or Kenotic theory that proposes that when the Son of God took on human flesh he poured out from himself attributes of deity in order to take on the attributes of humanity. In that case he was not fully God but he was fully man according to this heresy. Of course, this is not what Philippians 2 is teaching. It is not indicating that he poured anything out of himself. He did not give up being God. He gave up something else that we will talk about in a moment but he did not give up being God. He poured all of who he was out. I think that is the important thing to notice at this point. He remains all of who he is in the pouring out of himself in order to take on the form of a servant.
B. Meaning of Kenosis: Emptying by Adding
What really is the meaning of the kenosis then as we see this in Philippians 2:6-7? I think it can be summarized by saying this is a pouring out or an emptying that takes place by adding, a subtraction, if you will, by addition. How does that work? Look again at verse 7, “He emptied himself taking,” the participle there that follows is so instructive. How did he subtract? He did not take anything out of himself. He poured himself out taking the form of a bondservant, being made in the likeness of men, being found in appearance as a man. So those participles that follow indicate that Christ actually poured out or emptied by adding to himself.
Let me give you an illustration of this that I hope will help and then I will come back to what I believe Paul is saying here. It is an imprecise illustration, as most are I suppose, but at least it helps to get one main point across. Suppose you were to go to the showroom floor of a car dealership and request to test-drive a brand new Mercedes-Benz sports car. What fun this would be to take this for a drive. The car dealer there is foolish enough to allow us to do this. So we take the keys to this car and we take this hot Mercedes-Benz sports car outside and beginning driving it. In the previous several days it has been raining quite a bit and we decide to take this sports car out onto the muddy roads of the countryside and spin those tires and we have a great time getting this car absolutely covered with mud and bring it back a half hour later to the dealership and pull it into the car lot, drive it onto the showroom floor and here it is caked with mud.
The car dealer would come up to us and say, “What have you done to my car?!” And your response could be this, “Oh, we haven’t taken anything away from it, we’ve only added to it.” You understand the point? We’ve only added to it. Now notice what the adding has done, however. By adding a coat of mud to the car we have concealed or veiled or covered over its luster, its glory, its shine, and its brilliance. It can’t show what is there because of the mud that covers it. I think this is what happens in the kenosis is we find in Christ taking on our human flesh he is God, just as that Mercedes-Benz is the same car that it was before, all of its qualities are still there, but some of those qualities of that Mercedes-Benz cannot be manifest, they can’t be shown because of what now has been added to it.
So as Christ takes on human form, he takes on the limitations of human life and lives as one of us in order to live life as we do so that when we read in Philippians 2 as we read a little bit further, “That he being found in appearances of man,” verse 8, “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” We shouldn’t trivialize this obedience and think, because he is God, of course he obeyed. No, rather we should think as a man he obeyed. I will talk more about this in our next section on impeccability. The main point I want to make here is that it seems that in the kenosis certain of the divine qualities of Christ, while retained or possessed by him, are not allowed their full expression or manifestation.
Let's take for example the instance that we spoke of a moment ago when Christ told his disciples concerning the hour of the second coming that no one knew this “Not even the Son of man knows,” Mark 13:32. Isn’t it evident here that Christ in his divine nature alone is omniscient? He knows everything. He knows the hour of the second coming along with everything else. But when he takes on human form there are aspects of his knowledge that he retains in his divine nature but are not allowed to come across, as it were, to the person of Christ. So his consciousness as the person, the God-man, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, doesn’t know these things, although in his divine nature alone he would, he does know these things.
Similarly I think that that accounts for how Jesus in Luke 2 can grow in wisdom. God is all-wise, omnisapient. So certainly there is no way that God can grow in wisdom and there is no way in which the divine nature in Christ can be reduced in wisdom but that wisdom, that knowledge of his divine nature is not allowed full expression in the person, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, in order for him to live life as a human being. I think that it is just very important for us to see this that Christ lived his life, obeyed the Father, carried out the will of the Father, was obedient to the point of death and he did so as the second Adam, as the one who came to take our place and live an obedient life and die a substitutionary death on the cross. And he did so as a man.
Of course, he is the God-man and both his deity and his humanity are essential for his atoning work. Deity, so that the offering made would be of sufficient value to pay for the sin of the world. John 1:29 John the Baptist says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And as we know from Hebrews no sacrifice was able to do this. A priest had to keep offering sacrifice after sacrifice to cover for more and more and more sin but here comes one sacrifice offered once for all for all sin. How can this be? The offering offered was of infinite value and the only way that could be was if Christ was himself God who was offered. The offering had to be human as well, had to be a man who was offered in order to take our place, in order to substitute for you and me.
So the God-man gave himself but clearly Christ came to the cross, lived his life, was obedient and was crucified. As we live our lives so he lived his life but in his case he lived it fully obediently even to the point of death and death on a cross. So the kenosis then, what is this emptying? It is an emptying of all of who Christ is, pouring out of all who Christ is by adding to himself our humanity and that adding means that certain prerogatives or privileges of his deity, not the attributes of deity mind you, but certain prerogatives or privileges of his deity are set aside in order for him to live life fully, authentically as a human being. So while being fully God he does not live among us with all the privileges that he has as God.
VI. Impeccability of Christ
A. Meaning of the term impeccability
Some of you may not have heard of this term. It doesn’t refer to being meticulous or being very careful at what we do, in that sense impeccable, but rather it refers to the fact that Christ could not have sinned. The term is formed from the negation of the Latin term peccare, which is the term “to sin.” So impeccable is being unable to sin. The view of the church has been through most of its history that Christ was impeccable, that is, that it is was impossible for Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the God-man to sin. I hold this view, although some evangelicals have given it up in more recent years. Of course, the main reason that people object to this doctrine is because it appears that it is irreconcilable with the true temptations of Christ. How can he be truly tempted if he could not have sinned? I will comment on that in a moment. I believe there is an answer to that, but some have given up impeccability in order to account for the temptations. I affirm impeccability; I affirm what the church as held. Shedd, in his theology, defines impeccability this way, “An impeccable will is one that is so mighty in its self- determination to good that it cannot be conquered by any temptation to evil however great.” So Christ not only did not sin, of course, everyone in the orthodox tradition of the church and all evangelicals hold that Christ did not sin, this doctrine holds more particularly that Christ could not sin.
B. Support for impeccability
1. Christ did not sin. Let’s begin with the fact that he did not sin. Obviously everybody in the orthodox tradition holds this. Here are some key texts that affirm it. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “Christ who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” Hebrews 4:15, “Christ was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 9:14, “Christ was offered without blemish to God.” 1 Peter 2:22, “Christ committed no sin nor was any deceit found in his mouth.” 1 John 3:5, “In him there is no sin.” All of this echoes the prophecy in Isaiah 53:9 that the servant of the Lord who would come did “no violence nor was any deceit found in his mouth,” indicating his innocence and sinlessness. Clearly, Christ did not sin.
2. Christ could not sin. Here I appeal to the fact that Christ, as God could not sin because if sin were to occur then this would implicate the divine nature in a way that is unacceptable. There is no possible way for Christ to have sinned without his divine nature being implicated in this. Sinning is a moral act and the divine nature is moral among other things. For Christ to choose to sin would be to choose to do an action that the divine nature would be involved in. Clearly we are taught in Scripture that God cannot be tempted, much less sin. So obviously the temptation that Christ faces are coming to his human nature, not his divine nature, because the divine nature cannot be tempted, James 1:13. But if Christ were to yield to that temptation all of who he is is involved in that action, so his very divine nature would be implicated.
I think that the immutability of God as it’s applied to Christ relates to this as well. We read in Hebrews 13:8 that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” As I mentioned earlier in regard to support for the deity of Christ, Hebrews 1:10-12 quotes Psalm 102 and this clearly indicates that Christ is as God immutable and, therefore, cannot change in his moral nature. Therefore, I don’t see how we can rightly think that he could sin. It seems to me if we can solve the problem of the temptations of Christ then it is better to maintain impeccability than to deny it, to maintain that Christ could not have sinned if, in fact, there is a way to explain the reality of the temptations.
3. The Reality of Christ’s temptations. First of all, three points here. The first two lead up to the third one, which is the key point.
a. Christ was fully and truly tempted. This is clear from Scripture, Matthew 4:1-11 we read the temptation that Satan brought to Christ and when he left he looked for another opportune time; this wasn’t an isolated event. Clearly in Hebrews 4:15 we read “He was tempted in all ways as we are yet without sin.” So I along with all other evangelicals affirm these were genuine temptations, they really were temptations and he bore them truly.
b. By never sinning, he endured the full weight of temptation. This is a very important point to realize. One of the main reasons we give up when we’re tempted is simply because we don’t want the pressure to continue. We give up to be released from the force of the temptation but Christ in never giving into temptation felt in every instance the full weight of the temptation. So it’s very clear he was tempted in ways beyond what we ever will be because we as sinners give in and so release ourselves from the pressure of the temptation. Christ never did this. Still we have not dealt with the fundamental question of, are these temptations real?
c. Key distinction and solution. The distinction is in two different questions. 1. Why is it that Christ did not sin? 2. Why is it that he could not sin? It seems to me these require two different answers. Why is it he could not sin? I have already indicated the answer to that in the discussion previously and that is that he was God. God by his very nature cannot sin. Christ being God cannot sin. So Christ could not sin because he is God. Now I think a mistake is made if we answer the other question the same way, however.
Why is it Christ did not sin? This is not because he was God but rather because as a man he resisted temptation as a man with the resources provided for him as a man and he resisted to the end, never yielding to that temptation with the resources he had in his human nature. What did he have in his human nature? He had the Holy Spirit provided to strengthen him. He had the Word of God that he used as a tool against Satan and his temptations. He had prayer. He had, what we hoped anyway, would be a community of faith that would be supportive. We know how that community failed him in the Garden of Gethsemane. His asking the disciples to pray wasn’t phony. This isn’t just some show or act. He really was asking for prayer because he knew the enormity of the challenge that was facing him and wanted to obey the Father. Clearly it was difficult, extremely difficult, to obey the Father there at the very end when he faced the most difficult of all of his callings and that was to go to the cross. So Christ faced these temptations as a man, fulfilled his obedience to the Father as a man in the power of the Spirit, through obeying the Word and he did so in what was provided him in his human nature.
Let me give you an illustration of how I think you can distinguish these questions; why is it that Christ could not have sinned and why is it he did not sin, why these are two different questions. Here is the illustration. Imagine a championship swimmer who wants to break the world’s record for the longest swim. I believe the world’s record is something in the 70s of miles. So this swimmer wants to break the world’s record, decides to do it in this large lake, a very, very long lake. The time comes, the day is here, perfect conditions and the swimmer it going to attempt this. Now the only problem is that the swimmer in training for this has realized that these very, very long swims cause him a problem in that his muscles can cramp and if they cramp he fears drowning out there in the middle of this large lake. So in order to avoid this they prepare for a boat to follow along him, 10, 15 yards back so there is no interference at all but close enough so that if there were to be a problem, if the swimmer were to cramp up and begin to drown the boat could be there immediately and assist him and pull him out of the water. So, the day comes and the boat is there, the swimmer is there and the gun goes off and the swimmer dives in and begins his swim. He swims and he swims and he swims all the while with the boat trailing a short distance behind and he comes to his goal; breaks the world’s record and successfully completes the swim. Now consider with me two questions here. One is why is it that the swimmer could not have drowned on this championship swim to break the world’s record and why is it the swimmer did not drown on his swim? Do you see how that requires two different answers?
On the first, why is it he could not have drowned? It is because the boat was right there. They sent the boat behind him for the very purpose that if he were to cramp up and begin to struggle and drown the boat would pick him up out of the water. So why is it he could not have drowned? The boat was there. But, why is it he did not drown? Do you see the answer is different? It has nothing to do with the boat. It has everything to do with the fact he kept swimming. Two different answers are needed, and likewise, I think in relation to Christ two answers are needed. Why is it he could not have sinned? He was God. Why is it he did not sin? As a man he kept on obeying, as it were. As a man he kept on relying upon what was given to him as a man and was obedient to the point of death even death on a cross.
Real quickly, the practical application, I think, of this is enormous. Think, for example, in 1 Peter 2 where Peter tells us that, “We have been called for this purpose since Christ suffered for us leaving us an example that we should follow in his steps,” 1 Peter 2:21. That is a remarkable statement isn’t it? We are to live our lives as Jesus lived his life. Even in Philippians 2 we see the same thing in verse 5, “Have this attitude in yourselves which is in Christ Jesus.” We are to follow Christ’s example, live as he lived. The question is if Christ lived his life, obeyed the Father, performed his work and he did so as God, that is, utilizing the power of his divine nature, how is he an example to us?
Think of 1 Peter 2:21 again. Peter says that, “We are to follow in his steps who committed no sin. Nor was any deceit found in his mouth. While being reviled, he did not revile in return; while suffering he uttered no threats but kept entrusting himself to him who judges righteously.” Obviously then, if we are to follow in Jesus steps who committed no sin but the reason he committed no sin was because as God he couldn’t sin, there is no way this can apply to us. The only way it works is that as a man with the resources now given to us, we have the Spirit, we have the Word, we have the community of faith, we have prayer. With the resources given to us we are called to live as Jesus lived his life and do so obeying the Father to his honor and glory.
VII. Hypostatic Union and the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451
The early church struggled not only with the doctrine of the Trinity that we talked about in an earlier lecture and how to understand the relation of the two persons of the Father and the Son together. But the church also struggled with the question, who is Jesus in relation to his divine and human realities? Is he fully divine? Yes, the church held that. Well, is he fully human also? How do we understand this?
A. Erroneous views of Christ prior to Chalcedon
There were a couple erroneous views that were proposed that were then answered and corrected at the Council at Chalcedon.
1. The Apollinarian view. Apollinaris proposed that, in fact, Christ was made up of one nature, which was divine. So Apollinaris wanted to affirm what was held in the classic Nicean tradition that, in fact, Christ was of the same nature as the Father, homoousios, but he couldn’t see how it could be possible for Christ to be fully God and fully man both. How could this be? Instead, he held that he had really just one nature and that nature was divine. What did he say about the human Jesus? He said that Jesus appeared to be a human; he had a human body, but he did not have a full human nature. This view is sometimes called docetism. It comes from the Greek word dokeo, which means, “to seem.” So Christ seemed to be human but he was not really human according to Apollinaris. He was a divine nature and person in a human body.
2. The Nestorian view. Nestorius proposed, and by the way we don’t know for sure if Nestorius actually was as guilty of Nestorianism as has been attributed to him. There is historical reason to think that Nestorius may not have held the view completely as has been attributed to him. But nonetheless, the Nestorian view holds that Christ is actually not just two natures of divine and human together, but actually two persons. Nestorius was a bishop at Constantinople and suggested that the only way we can account for the true divinity and true humanity of Christ is to think of him as two persons together. But this runs into problems.
You have to ask the questions does Christ have two minds, two wills, and two sets of emotions? Who is the real Jesus in this if, in fact, he is two persons? I don’t think it fits the biblical data. Think, for example, in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prays to the Father and he says, “Father if you be willing, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done.” Now, that seems to indicate to me that we’re not talking about two different wills in Christ, that is a divine will and a human will, but rather a one solitary will of Christ that in this particular case is not the same as the will of the Father. As Jesus contemplates the cross he wills to be released from it but then he also wills to yield to the will of the Father. So not my will but thine be done indicating that he is willing to accept what the Will of the Father is rather than being released from going to the cross. It looks as though he has one will, one set of emotions, one consciousness, as it were, rather than being two persons with all of those qualities that would be attached to each of the two persons.
B. Orthodox Decision. The Orthodox Decision at the Council of Chalcedon was to understand Christ as being made up of two natures, a human nature and a divine nature, so it is right to think of him as 100 percent human and 100 percent divine joined together in one person. The language used as Chalcedon was to say that Christ’s two natures are conjoined but not confused. This language was used for this reason. To say that the two natures are conjoined is to say that they really are brought together. We have a unified person with these two natures. We are not talking about two natures that are separated from one another and have nothing to do with each other. No, they are joined together in one person but they’re not confused. That is they are not intermixed. The attributes of one don’t carry over to the other. It is not like pouring grape juice and apple juice into one common pitcher where you end up with grapple juice or something to that effect, where it is neither grape juice nor apple juice anymore. No, it is not that. You have the separate, divine and separate human natures and they’re conjoined together but they’re not confused. This is not a divinized humanity or a humanized divinity. It is a set of inner experiences and two natures that make up the one person of Christ.
©2004 Bruce Ware